Act II; 'Mulgrew's Minions'
Act III; Growing Pains
In my last post, I wrote about Mulgrew's concerns about the out-and-out anger over the new proposed contract. In this one, I'll focus on the army of union reps that the UFT sent out to convince people that they should vote yes.
I should start by saying there is an entire vote yes apparatus out there. This wasn't the case with the last contract, but it is now. I've been part of campaigns before and I know what one feels like. This is nothing short of a city-wide campaign intent on getting teachers to do one thing: Vote Yes on an contract proposal that is unpopular among members. It starts with Mulgrew, goes down to the VPs and staffers at the UFT HQ level, then straight to the borough offices and into any school where staff that are part of (or would like to be part of) the Unity caucus. Finally, it ends in every school in the city. It has spread into social media, into teachers' email boxes and has made its way into staff lounges of schools who both strongly support and strongly oppose the proposal. Needless to say; it's a pretty big campaign.
Part of the 'Vote Yes' apparatus is within the Unity caucus itself. Their May newsletter, which was leaked by a Unity member upset about the contract, looked more like a "Vote Yes" flier than a monthly news bulletin for caucus members. While on one level, you might see it as a caucus celebrating an achievement of its goals, it's kind of hard to ignore things like the pay scale and the great big headline urging caucus members to 'Vote YES!'. To urge UFT members to vote yes is one thing. But if you have to urge members of your own caucus to vote for the contract you just negotiated, something's a tad out of place. This flier isn't an example of rallying the troops. It's an example of rallying the faithful troops -the ones who's loyalty you should expect anyway and under almost any circumstance. Think about that for a moment and ask yourself why any army would need to rally it's most loyal soldiers. I come away with the feeling that the cause to which they are being rallied (this proposed contract) must not exactly be selling itself.
Newsletter aside, it was surprising to see the rest of that apparatus take so much time to get its act together. As early as three days after the May 1 press conference, I learned that District Representatives (those people who deal with your chapter leader and are supposed to be an expert on details) were misquoting the amount of the salary increase we are to expect in September (reps from two different boroughs said 10% in September. It's actually 2%). At first I thought they were liars. I quickly came to realize that they just hadn't been brought up on all of the facts -they didn't know any better!
Apparently, no one had sat them down and made them informed about the details of the contract. No one had told him how important it was to be able to answer questions, or to get out into schools and start selling it to voting members. I am still amazed that union leadership, in the face of such widespread disappointment, did not consider it important enough to tap into their representative corps sooner.
All in all, the representatives didn't get the basics straight and organize visits to schools for a full two weeks after the announcement. In any campaign, large or small, two weeks is an absolute lifetime. If MORE were just a bit bigger, or if another large group existed who opposed the contract, the Unity leadership would have lost their 'Vote Yes' campaign for that reason alone.
This lack of organization isn't just skin deep. It now seems painfully obvious that the Borough Reps, District Reps and Special Reps of the entire UFT have been simply left out of the loop. I had the opportunity to distribute MORE leaflets during the May 7 DA. Being the smart alack I am, I chose to 'leaflet' the coffee lounge where many members of the leadership gathered before the meeting. Of all the people who I explained details of the contract to, the DRs were the ones who were most open to hear them. Not one detail I shared was contested. At one point, I had four of them surrounding me, listening intently, and one actually pulled me aside to ask a few clarifying questions when I was done (to be clear, they were masked as criticisms, but the questions very clearly sought to clarify the person's understanding).
Weeks later, when my school received a visit from a Special Representative, I was stunned to see him open a copy of the NYC Teacher (the UFT member only newspaper) to search for details to answer member's question about the deal. I've heard similar stories about DRs visiting many schools over the past three weeks. All of them reveal a corps of UFT representatives that have simply not been brought up on all of the facts about the contract proposal and cannot provide many details at all.
These aren't stupid people. Representatives come from highly respected colleges. They are super intelligent, many of them super nice and still many more are super supportive professionals. For the vast majority of elected staff members (chapter leaders and delegates) the District Reps, Special Reps and Borough Reps are their only connection the UFT. In short, they are smart, savvy and have an unbelievably important role in how this union operates. Yet they were kept out of the loop almost completely and, quite frankly, placed in a positions that made them look like car salesman who didn't quite know their car (which, in my opinion, doesn't place them in the light they deserve for all the work they do).
It is a strange twist, that the opposition caucus has come to have a better command of the facts, as well as the details and the possible implications, of the contract than this plethora of union officials. This is consistent across the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens and it is a bizarre circumstance to observe -and a very strange observation to have to share. But it is a fact that has become a part of this 'Vote Yes' campaign.
|This rushed 'vote yes' flier found its way into schools with|
a strong 'Vote No' sentiment
On this level, the intent doesn't seem to be to convince people to vote for the contract. Rather, it seems to be an attempt to make sure that anti-union (or anti-Unity) sentiment doesn't take root in schools. School cultures are tricky and rank and file union members are trickier still. Schools, which we call union chapters, fall into one of three broad categories. There are chapters that are not 'active', chapters that are active and are sympathetic toward union leadership, and chapters that are active and are critical of union leadership. The energies of the representative corps as of late last week seem to be devoted to making sure the latter category of chapters don't grow as a result of this contract.
|Vote Yes avatars on Facebook and Twitter to combat|
the 'Vote No' badges
These are Mulgrew's Minions. Party leaders who feel the need to rally their own party faithful. Wonderful, intelligent representatives who seem as though they have simply been left out of the loop and are made to look like flippin' car salesmen/women (which, again, they are not). And a structure that is concerned enough about anti leadership sentiment taking root in their union to push back where they can: with a few new Twitter users and fliers that were quickly put together the night before. They're not all on the same page, don't all speak to the same bullet points and, clearly, weren't all issued the same walking papers. Just beneath the surface, they look like a rag-tag bunch who have had the whip put to them and aren't quite sure how to present an organized front. If I ran my classroom the way the 'Vote Yes' effort has been organized, I'd be rated Ineffective.
If these are his minions, it is little no wonder why the man was wound up so tight at the May 5 meeting of the Executive Board.
And about that whip! Tomorrow, I'll get into how the UFT senior staff has supported the 'Vote Yes' campaign. While it involves a presidential town hall meeting (naaa, not Obama!) and some examples of black hat (SEO) moves, it also involves an UFT VP who may have actually strengthened the union (if even by accident) as a part of the attempt to get members to vote yes.